Give Wildlife a Chance - How to save millions of animals each year
|One of many Wildlife Crossings on the Trans Canada Highway in Banff which are reputed to have reduced animal mortality by 80%|
-Image by Coolcaesar, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
It was World Wildlife Day earlier this month – March 3, to be
precise. Wildlife is under threat everywhere. We’ve already talked about some of the awful things we do to animals. We kill them for food and for fun or for their body parts and we steal their homes to build our own, to grow crops or dig for minerals underneath, but what if I told you
that apart from land clearing, our roads kill more animals than hunting, poaching and almost all the other crimes combined? It is also amongst the easier ones to fix.
A Deadly Toll
In Australia an estimated 10 million animals die on our roads each year if we include smaller animals such as possums, quolls, echidnas and birds.
My own state holds the unfortunate record of being the nation’s
roadkill state. Although some locals say this is because we have more wildlife
than other states, this may no longer be true, if it ever was. Our Tasmanian Devils for example, which exist nowhere else, have been decimated by Facial Tumour disease which has now spread to
the north west of the state. Wombats suffer from Sarcoptic Mange which can also be fatal. The
smaller mammals aren’t even counted, let alone the reptiles and other creatures,
all of which continue to be driven onto the roads by logging, bushfires,
agriculture and developments of various kinds and there’s a lot more traffic
too. Nature always looks abundant until it’s gone. Ask the
cod fishermen or the last Tasmanian Tiger.
|Poor Devil: As far as Tasmanian Devils go, of the 20 disease -free devils released into the wild after costing $20 -30,000 each to vaccinate, four were killed on the roads within days. Another report states that over 100 were killed on a 25 km section of road in just two years|
Nor is Tasmania the only place with a Roadkill problem. According
to National Geographic, US insurance figures indicate that more than one million animal are involved in collisions each year at an
estimated $8 billion in medical costs and vehicle repairs,
Other sources less concerned with the financial cost, put the figure at around one million animals a day. A 1992 report from New York State by Cornell University,
found that for every deer kill reported, four more had died and another had
In Canada an older Department of Transport report shows that animal deaths increased from 7,389 in 1996 to 11,051 by 2001, though again, this account is mainly concerned with those resulting in human fatalities.
In the case of endangered species, the road toll brings many animals closer to extinction, as for example Black Bears in Florida, Koalas on mainland Australia and Devils in Tasmania. Assuming we are unlikely to stop building roads or using our cars any time soon, let’s look at some mitigation measures.
Stopping the Carnage
France began building wildlife bridges over highways as early as the 1950’s and Canada took up the idea in 1974. Between 1996 and 2016 Canada began building them in earnest starting in Banff National Park. Six bridges and 38 underpasses later, there has been an 80% drop in wildlife collisions. The survival of Canada’s Grizzly Bears has been largely attributed to these crossings because they connect areas of vegetation and enable the bears to travel over much larger ranges in search of food or mates.
In the USA corridor and tunnel building began in Arizona in 2000. At last count it had 20 corridors and 17 underpasses with funnel fencing, resulting in a 90% drop in wildlife related accidents. Twistedsifter tells us that they have since been built to protect Mountain Goats in Montana, Spotted Salamanders in Massachusetts, Bighorn Sheep in Colorado, Desert Tortoises in California and Florida Panthers in Florida. The USA even has a frog tunnel in Sacramento which enables frogs to move between wetlands beneath a power line road.
Since 2001, koala numbers in Australia had fallen by between 33 - 66% even before the catastrophic 2019 bushfires. They are now considered endangered in at least three states. Between 2010 and 2013, Queensland began building crossings for its koalas by modifying existing drainage channels, making it less expensive than some of the elaborate ones spanning highways.
|Koala numbers in NSW have fallen around 41% since the 2019 bushfires and as of 2022 they have been listed as endangered in NSW, Queensland and the ACT|
Other Countries and Other Creatures
In Europe, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and even the UK have followed suit, but the Netherlands with over 600 hundred animal crossings is now the undisputed champion.
In Kenya there are elephant underpasses, on Christmas Island (AU) there are crab crossings, and there are aerial crossings for monkeys in Brazil, for squirrels in Washington NY and a combination of rope and poles to help squirrel gliders cross the busy Hume Highway in Victoria, Australia. Ireland has a crossing which also serves bats, Japan also has a turtle tunnel and New Zealand has one for Blue Penguins. I found out about most of these and more in Bored Panda's collection. You can see more and vote on your favourites here.
Technology to the rescue
Virtual fencing is among the newer technologies being deployed to prevent roadkill. Developed in Europe, it is now being trialled in a number of locations around Australia – on the Sunshine Coast (QLD), at Phillip Island in Victoria and on Tasmania’s West Coast. This is a roadside device mounted on a pole. Triggered by headlights it produces a buzzing sound which warns wildlife of approaching cars. Early results from Tasmania’s trial show wildlife fatalities falling by half.
Given that most of our marsupials feed at night, this could be an excellent solution. At a personal level there are Hopper Stoppers – small devices fitted to cars that emit an electronic signal when travelling at speed. At around $AU 36.00 these could be a good investment if, as the manufacturer claims “they prevent 80% of accidental damage as a result of animal collisions.” The advantage here is that they work at any time of day or night. However it's a bit hard to prove how effective they are unless you have baseline studies, insurance data or consistent monitoring.
Tasmania has a Roadkill App for reporting road kill so that land, road and wildlife managers can take appropriate action. Reporting can also be done online or by phone. (see numbers at the end of this post).
GIS technology which has both landscape and local area layers can help with siting of tunnels, planting or removal of vegetation and placement of fencing to funnel animals in from either side. In the process care must be taken that there is sufficient cover, so that small animals aren’t exposed to predators while crossing or where they enter or emerge. As one commentator remarked about a salmon chute, “It looks like a fast-food joint for bears.”
Perhaps in the near future, the eagle strike prevention technology being used on windfarms could be adapted to cars.
Road managers, Land managers, Road and Forestry workers and Councils
As yet few councils in our region have pro -active measures
to prevent roadkill. Usually it only happens in response to public pressure and
then it usually entails things like signage, roadside slashing so animals
become more visible - sometimes light coloured road surfaces are used for the same reason or, in the case of Little Penguins on the North West Coast,
physical fencing. Only two
out of 46 councils in Tasmania have active monitoring and reporting. While about half regularly remove
dead animals, they don't keep track of the
number of dead animals they find. Those who use the roads frequently as part of
their work, such as truckers and linesmen, should be urged to keep score. It is
also an opportunity for citizen scientists and school children, particularly on our urban fringes
where more native animals are seeking refuge, especially in times of drought. Few councils contribute to the work of wildlife shelters or carers.
|Even a simple sign like this can alert drivers to the presence of wildlife and remind them to slow down|
An interesting development in Tasmania, is that farmers in the Midlands have started leaving wide, protected strips of vegetation on the edges of their properties to give animals shelter and continuous corridors, so that there is less need for them to go onto the roads. A side benefit is that other rare native species such as orchids are also finding refuge there.
Having wide verges on roadsides is preferable to having narrow ones or hard barriers, which prevent wildlife from passing through.
|Traffic slowing measures on the urban fringe protect wildlife|
None of the above should absolve drivers from keeping an eye out for animals at roadsides, especially at dawn and dusk in Australia’s case, or travelling at lower speeds in known hot spots or where signage exists. Honk your horn if you see an animal on the road. Reporting of roadkill is important too so that authorities know where special provision needs to be made, be it eco -bridges or some other means such as fencing, or traffic slowing measures. Dead animals should be removed from the road as soon as possible so that scavengers such as devils, quolls and raptors which feed on carrion, do not become secondary victims. DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER.
Consult trained wildlife officers and carers (see below) if you find an injured animal. Wear gloves and keep them warm. Be aware that some animals such as snakes are dangerous and some injured animals may lash out when in distress. Do not approach injured Devils under any circumstances. Areas with a lot of wildlife should show such information on their tourist maps and guides and on road signs where applicable. Including it with rental cars would also be useful.
Unfortunately many of our roads are isolated and have no signal, so unless there is vehicle damage or injury, drivers rarely stop. One suggestion is that government representatives such as rangers be given the authority to issue spot fines to speeding drivers in wildlife zones.
For the moment however, it's far more important that we all become much more vigilant on our roads and that we give more consideration to wildlife when we are building them. Obviously we should continue to work on preventing the other activities such as poaching, trophy hunting and habit destruction, but roadkill prevention measures produce almost immediate and impressive results.